URC Round Six - teams and predictions
CATCH-UP GAMES PREVIEW: It has been a challenging and exhausting week for the Lions players, as the Ellis Park-based franchise looks to end a five-match United Rugby Championship losing streak.
Glasgow’s fixture against the Lions and Ulster’s game against the Sharks were both postponed at the end of October – after the sides were unable to field a side after a severe bout of gastroenteritis.
With the Lions having recorded just five victories in their 13 matches this season, the boardroom upheavals that stole the headlines this week were to be expected.
On top of having to overcome the infighting that dominated the build-up, they face the in-form Glasgow Warriors – a team that recorded a crucial victory over Ulster last weekend.
Adding to their many and growing challenges, the Lions have lost more matches at home than they’ve won this season – losing four and winning just two.
The Warriors are unbeaten in their last 10 games in all tournaments – with their last loss a URC outing against the unbeaten Leinster in Dublin at the end of November.
Lions scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys warned his team about the threats the Scottish outfit will pose, given Springbok Franco Smith is coaching them.
Smith, 50, joined the Warriors in August 2022 after a stint as Head of High Performance at the Italian Rugby Federation.
In his brief stint in Glasgow, he has already masterminded wins over the defending URC champion Stormers and the losing finalist Bulls.
On top of that the Lions lost to the Glasgow Warriors 9-13 in the one meeting between these teams.
The Warriors are on a six-match winning streak in the URC, their longest since a run of nine victories ended in May 2019.
“At first they struggled [under Smith], but they corrected it really well,” he told @rugby365com.
“They play great attacking rugby – going ‘wide-to-wide’.
“They might struggle with the heat, but would enjoy the dry conditions of the Highveld to put on show their expansive game.”
Sitting fourth in the standings, they are looking solid for a play-off spot.
The Lions, in stark contrast, are 14th in the standings.
“The players are relishing the opportunity to test themselves against a quality team,” Redelinghuys added.
On the flip side, Glasgow has been defeated on their last five visits to South Africa.
(Continue below …)
* The Sharks, sans their many Springboks, face an Ulster side that is captained by Springbok World Cup winner Duane Vermeulen and has also recovered well from an early-season slump to move back into the top three, including a big win over a touring Stormers side in Belfast.
Their form of late has been exceptional and despite going down to Glasgow in a tough clash last Friday, they still are on course for a home playoff game.
The Sharks desperately need a victory, following their home derby loss to the Stormers a fortnight ago, and currently sit in seventh spot with a game in hand over several of the sides ahead of them.
While the points on offer would take the Sharks closer to their hope of a home playoff, they would also leapfrog the sixth-placed Bulls if they do score a victory over Ulster.
The Sharks’ last three matches in the URC have all been won by the away side on the day.
Sharks have played Irish opponents on six previous occasions, winning both in Durban and losing away against all four at Irish provinces.
The Sharks lost 21-24 to Ulster in Belfast in the one meeting between these teams.
Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell described it as an ‘important’ game, given their positions on the standings – Ulster in third place with 44 points and the Sharks seventh (38).
He said they have focused on getting their ‘process’ right and not putting too much pressure on the players to get a result.
“The focus must be on the effort we put in on the field,” the Sharks boss said.
“We know Ulster is a difficult team to play, a very physical team.”
Powell praised his pack for their improved scrumming efforts in the most recent outings, mauling and maul defence.
“We do have the backs to score tries,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “However, it is all about the balance – a team that can be physical, but also play a bit more expansive.
“We also need to manage the kicking game well.”
They will again rely heavily on flyhalf Curwin Bosch as the main game driver.
“He managed the game we;; against the Lions [last week] and ensured we play in their half.
“We will be looking for a similar performance against Ulster.”
The other key player is returning fullback Henry Chamberlain, comes in for the injured Aphelele Fassi.
“Boeta has had a good season at fullback,” the coach said of Chamberlain, adding: “He gives you good aerial skills and also has a good kicking game.
“We can put more pressure on Ulster through the kicking games of Curwin [Bosch] and Boeta [Chamberlain].”
All the teams and predictions are below …
Saturday, February 25
SHARKS v ULSTER
(Kings Park, Durban – Kick-off: 14.00; 12.00 UK time & GMT)
@rugby365com: Ulster by six points
Sharks: 15 Henry Chamberlain, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Phendulani Buthelezi (captain), 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Gerbrandt Grobler, 4 Reniel Hugo, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Dan Jooste, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Replacements: 16 Fezokuhle Mbatha, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Hanro Jacobs, 19 Emile van Heerden, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 Yaw Penxe.
Ulster: 15 Mike Lowry, 14 Craig Gilroy, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stewart Moore, 11 Aaron Sexton, 10 Jake Flannery, 9 John Cooney, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Nick Timoney, 6 Jordi Murphy, 5 Harry Sheridan, 4 Alan O’Connor, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 John Andrew, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Tom Stewart, 17 Andy Warwick, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Cormac Izuchukwu, 20 Dave McCann, 21 Dave Shanahan, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Ethan McIlroy.
Referee: Sam Grove-White
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni, Griffin Colby
TMO: Andrew McMenemy
LIONS v GLASGOW WARRIORS
(Ellis Park, Johannesburg – Kick-off: 16.15; 14.15 Ireland & UK; 14.15 GMT)
@rugby365com: Glasgow Warriors by 12 points
Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Sibahle Maxwane, 13 Manuel Rass, 12 Marius Louw (captain), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Ruben Schoeman, 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 Pieter Botha, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith.
Replacements: 16 Morné Brandon, 17 Rynhardt Runsburger, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruhan Delport, 20 Ruhan Straeuli, 21 Morné van den Berg, 22 Rynhardt Jonker, 23 Andries Coetzee.
Glasgow: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Cole Forbes, 13 Stafford McDowall (captain), 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Eli Caven, 10 Tom Jordan, 9 Jamie Dobie, 8 Sione Vailanu, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Ally Miller, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Lewis Bean , 3 Lucio Sordoni, 2 Johnny Matthews, 1 Nathan McBeth.
Replacements: 16 Angus Fraser, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jean-Pierre du Preez, 20 Euan Ferrie, 21 Thomas Gordon, 22 Sean Kennedy, 23 Duncan Weir.
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Ian Davies (Wales)